Paris, 5 May 2021 – Sherpa as civil claimant will take part in Rifaat al Assad’s appeal trial, which opens today. The uncle of Bashar al-Assad, former key figure of the Damascus regime, was sentenced in June 2020 to four years in prison, notably for laundering by an organised group of embezzlement of Syrian public funds.
Following a complaint filed by Sherpa in 2013, legal proceedings were initiated against Rifaat al Assad, leading to a landmark trial in 2020 that brought the fight against money laundering and the issue of asset restitution to the forefront.
Sherpa reported to the French authorities the large amount of assets held in France by Rifaat Al Assad, as well as doubts about the lawful origin of these assets amounting to nearly 90 million euros. The investigation revealed significant suspicions of money laundering involving millions of euros derived from embezzlement of public funds at the time of his exile from Syria in 1984. At the European level, Rifaat Al Assad’s assets are estimated to be worth nearly 600 million euros.
An appealed conviction was handed down on June 2020 pronouncing the confiscation of the seized assets and sentencing Rifaat Al Assad to four years in prison for laundering of embezzlement of Syrian public funds between 1996 and 2016, for laundering of aggravated tax fraud and for concealed work of domestic employees.
In this case, as in most financial crime cases, the core issue lies in the notion of money laundering. Money laundering is by its very nature a covert operation, involving shell companies and making it particularly difficult to prove assets’ illicit origin.
“Rifaat Al Assad’s trial provides an opportunity to denounce and erode the impunity so far enjoyed by public and political figures involved in economic crime and money laundering”, points out Sandra Cossart, Sherpa’s Executive Director.
As with other major “ill-gotten gains” cases, this trial illustrates the need to fight financial crime, which is often related to blood crime. It demonstrates the importance of adopting French legislative provisions for the restitution of ill-gotten gains.
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